Yesterday afternoon I took a tour of LA’s Arts District from Downtown LA Walking Tours. I had the same tour guide as I did when I took the Chinatown and Little Tokyo tour on my last visit, and as it turns out he’s intimately familiar with the local art scene through his other job as a photographer.
The general story of an art district anywhere in the world follows pretty much the same pattern: a bunch of old warehouses in a poor part of town become available on the cheap, artists show up and turn them into art studios, those same artists improve the neighborhood over time, and are then forced out when the rents increase. It’s a classic tale of self-gentrification.
LA’s Arts District is a little more complicated than that, as it turns out — these artists were more organized than most. First the city codified the status of artists living in former warehouses where they worked, even if the buildings weren’t up to code. Second, some of the artists were able to hold on to their apartments even as those buildings were changed to new uses. Lastly, there are still a number of galleries in the area.
Oh, and the chickens. I should explain the chickens.
The first stop on the tour is Hauser & Wirth, the LA outpost of a Swiss chain of high-end art galleries. It’s actually several galleries in a building that was constructed as a flour mill.
In the patio of the building there’s a restaurant called Manuela, which is pricey but also apparently well liked, and is often frequented by celebrities. They grow some of their own spices and such on the patio outside, and have a fenced in area with chickens to provide fresh eggs. The chickens even have their own Instagram.
Like the former flour mill, other buildings in the area were either warehouses, or production sites for companies like Challenge Butter and Coca Cola. These businesses all left the area when the shipping economy shifted from railroads to trucks.
Though the tour stopped at three very different galleries, there’s also a focus on the outdoor art, from enormous murals to sculptures, which includes the oversized mailbox seen above.
There’s so much street art in the neighborhood that the same tour company has a tour devoted just to that topic. Unfortunately it wasn’t available during my trip this time or I would have booked that as well.
The last place we visited, Art Share LA, is more than just an art gallery. It also includes classrooms, studios for resident local artists, and even an event space that’s used for everything from ballet classes to church groups to weddings. The whole place has a welcoming atmosphere and features some of the most quirky art in the area.
One of the last spots on the tour is Wings by Colette Miller. What started as a simple pair of angel wings painted on a corrugated metal wall right here in the Arts District, designed to attract selfie-takers, is now an oft-imitated global phenomenon. Miller herself has been commissioned to paint many of these all over the world.
Even if you haven’t seen the original, you’ve almost certainly seen someone’s photo on Instagram standing against a wall with wings painted on it.
My recommendation: If you don’t know much at all about LA’s Arts District this is a solid tour. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what you’ll see on it, so if it sounds interesting I’d recommend it.